WWYDW(TE): The 32-team NHL

The worst-kept secret in hockey got made official earlier this week. The NHL’s Board of Governors unanimously voted in favour of Seattle joining the league for the 2021-22 season.

I don’t think we need to dive into talking about the expansion draft just yet. A lot is going to change between now and June 2021 in regards to players moving around and we have no idea who’s going to be here and who’s going to be gone by that point. A more interesting point of discussion right now, I think, is how the league should organize itself with a 32nd team in the mix.

As of right now, the league is keeping everything the same. They’re sliding the Arizona Coyotes into the Central Division and putting the Seattle team in the Pacific Division. The playoffs will also remain the same, with the top three teams earning playoff spots and two wild cards teams from either division also making the playoffs.

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This playoff format is controversial. While you can’t argue it does a great job of forcing geographical rivalries as the same teams are frequently meeting each other in the playoffs, it also creates the possibility of top teams facing each other in the first round. For example, look at the Atlantic Division right now. Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Buffalo are all towards the top of the league and two of them are going to have to face each other in the first round.

With 32 teams in the fold, the NHL has a chance to mix up the way the playoffs are formatted. I think the NFL does it right. They have eight divisions, the winner of each division earns a playoff spot, two teams per conference earn wild card seeds, and the top two teams in each conference get byes to the second round.

If the NHL went to an NFL-style eight-division league, we could see something like…

  • Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Seattle
  • Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vegas
  • Colorado, Dallas, Arizona (Houston..?), St. Louis
  • Winnipeg, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit
  • Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Boston
  • Buffalo, New York Islanders and Rangers, New Jersey
  • Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington
  • Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Nashville

What say you, Nation? How do you think the NHL should look wit 32 teams? Are the divisions and the playoffs good as they are right now? 

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  • sportsjunkie007

    I’d like to see the league’s top 16 make the playoffs, regardless of division or conference. A weak team shouldn’t make the playoffs just because the rest of their division is pathetic. That just means that a better team from somewhere else wasn’t in the playoffs strictly because of their location.

    • YFC Prez

      i would love another round of playoffs, the more hockey the better. Regular season play would all become about matchups though instead of fighting to make the playoffs.

      I know a lot of guys would hate the idea though.

    • Spydyr

      At first read I did not like the idea of all 32 teams making the playoffs . The regular season has to hold some meaning.

      Then I thought this might work. Every team plays each other home and away. The two conferences split and you play each team in your conference once. Flip the home teams every season. Then add another round to the playoffs.

      The first seed in each conference plays the sixteenth seed and the second seed plays the fifteenth so forth down to seven plays eight.

      The numbers are 62+15= 77 Regular season games. The extra round of the playoffs should make up some of the missing games.

      Sure the regular season would not be as meaningful but playoff hockey is much more exciting.

      • Spydyr

        Couple other things good and bad.


        No teams would be out of the playoff race at Christmas time. How many season did the Oilers play meaningless games for months on end.

        Draft position could be set up on who gets knocked out first. If more than one team gets knocked at at same amount of games then go to regular season points.


        Teams may float into the playoffs resting players or trying to avoid certain match ups.

        You could set the all star game up when the teams divide into there respective conferences. With a few less games you could give the players a full week off at the break. Play the all star game the second day into the break thus giving the players invited a five day break.

        • Spydyr

          One more thing, put the trade deadline during the all-star break. It would keep fans interested during the down time and give players a couple days before they have to report to their new teams.

          • YFC Prez

            There are other benefits outside of the nhl as well. Like hockey city’s and provinces/states getting the major boost to their local economy during playoffs. It also adds to the owners revenue which should have a dramatic effect on the cap.

            Playoffs are money makers. Sharing that financial prosperity across the league and the nations just seems like a no brainer.

          • Serious Gord

            We should have three trade deadline days – days in which trades can you not be made.

            And they should all be done face to face by the GMs in an arena.

            One trade day dec 1 one feb1 and one March 15.

            It would make for great fan talk and spectacule. The sports channels would live it.

        • Serious Gord

          Terrible idea. Teams would sandbag like crazy and regular season games would have zero meaning.

          See my post below- where you place in the regular season would gave significant consequences in every round of the playoffs.

  • BR

    i’d like to see a 16 team playoff – but having a wildcard means you don’t have weak teams coming in just because their division sucks. And then imagine being the third/fourth team in a ridiculous division like WAS/PIT over the past few years and then having teams like Oilers making the playoffs over you just because their division only has one team that might be a contender.

    You’d start seeing the players refuse to sign long term and move around a lot more to create NBA style super teams.

  • The current system is okay but as you said, top teams facing each other in the 1st round doesn’t produce the best teams making it to the higher rounds.

    I’m not sure if the NFL does it right. What if a division is really bad and the top team makes the playoffs yet are below all teams in another division? But I guess the wild card games alleviate that?

    With 32 teams in the NHL like the NFL, this makes it easier to balance. This also means two more games, more travel and costs to play teams further away more often–unlikely the NHLPA would go for this.

    With the current schedule structure but under 32 teams, every team would play:
    Within Division: 4 games x 7 teams = 28 games
    Within Conference, Non-divisional: 3 games x 8 teams = 24 games
    Inter-conference: 2 games x 16 teams = 32 games
    Total: 84 games (+2)

    The league finally got it right by at least allowing 2 inter-conference games so fans could watch every opponent at home at least once.

    If the NHL were to go to a straight points ranking per conference 1-8, the schedule has to be considered as each team would have to play each other in the same conference an equal number of times for it to be considered perfectly fair.

    Within Conference: 4 games x 15 teams = 60 games
    Inter-conference: 2 games x 16 teams = 32 games
    Total: 92 games. No way this will happen.

    If they went to an NFL structure of 8 divisions:
    Within Division: 5 games x 3 teams = 15 games
    Within Conference: 3 games x 12 teams = 36 games
    Inter-conference: 2 games x 16 teams = 32 games
    Total: 83 games (+1). This could be doable and would further increase the rivalries.

  • jesse says yep

    I would love to see an actual divisional playoff to see who gets a chance to play in the playoffs, 1v8 2v7………… best of 3 series. Losers go into a league wide tourney for draft positioning, eliminating the possibility of tanking.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    A Wild and exciting idea…
    Top 8 division winners make the playoffs, best 2 records get a 1st rd bye.
    * The Two Wild Card teams (cross over), yes folks we could see Edm vs Tor, or Edm vs Pitts.
    (exciting till the last reg seasons games determine spots.)
    After the 1st Rd, worst record plays best record in each conference, (no matchups are pre-determined).
    Final, East plays West.

  • Serious Gord

    Some certain non-negotiables:

    1.Everyone has to be at max only one time zone difference

    2. Minimum 82 games (owners won’t take less gate)

    3. Every team plays every other twice – once at home once away – see point two and the desire to have every superstar visit every team at least once a season. 2×31=62

    Those noted, I do like the NFL approach and I admit until I read it this evening I hadn’t thought about it.

    So left with 20 games. assuming four games against division partners 3×3 that leaves eleven so perhaps one game more against the three geographically nearest divisions -12 games – and bumping season to 83.

    Start the season two weeks earlier – sept 15 and cut preseason to two weeks.

    Playoffs- eight division winners eight wild cards. Final four get reseeded based on regular season points.

    I’m open to two sets of wildcards 4 get a bye and 8 play 2 out three over four days – that gets 20 teams in the playoffs.

  • Harry2

    Winning the presidents trophy then having to play the 2nd or 3rd best team in the league in the second round is so beyond ridiculous. The NHL needs to change this asap

    • wiseguy

      We didn’t feel too sorry for the Flames when the Oilers, Flames, and Jets were all in the top 5 in the league and in the same Smythe division. The current system is not any more ridiculous. It works to promote rivalries as it’s more likely that the same teams meet in the playoffs in successive years.